Respiration is the formulation
You know how when you become excited with good news you can't help but feel a lift in your chest? Or when you feel the distinct emotion of grief your chest seems to have a heaviness to it? How about recollecting the rage you may feel thinking about an injustice that affects you? Or the sensations your whole body gets with the concept of love?
Our bodies have physiological responses to our every mental and emotional state. Hormones are the bridge from the brain to the body, and one measure we can exercise to harness this feature is our ability to control the breath.
Our nervous system has two modes of operation: somatic and autonomic.
Somatic is all about bodily control through the power of cognition and being aware of controlling our body's movements. Boring.
Autonomic is “supposed” to be the uncontrollable part of our hardwiring according to old science, just like neurons used to be non-regenerative. This is where the fun is at! Along with the autonomic nervous system we've got yin and yang concepts through the parasympathetic and sympathetic functions respectively.
PARAsympathetic is rest and digest. Calm, cool, easy, content, these are all words synonymous with this function. We are in this state as we eat, sleep, and decompress from a hard day. This is a state of continuous easy breathing and cellular oxygenation.
REGULAR OLE sympathetic is fight or flight. All the stress and aggravation you've ever felt was under the influence of this function here. Fight or flight also tends to have us reflexively hold our breath. By holding our breath we can pressurize our thorax and bolster our torso for strenuous activity. Lifting weights, fighting, or doing any kind of intense physical action instinctively requires this of us.
Also part of our autonomic nervous functions are the actions performed by all our organs. Heart beat, digestion, dilation and contraction of vessels, even our respiration… What's cool is our respiration is also something we can control unlike the other organ functions. Our breath is literally the one function that we can use to our advantage.
In other words, our “uncontrollable” autonomic nervous system is only uncontrollable by choice.
Think about it. Our lungs oxygenate our blood, which enables the whole organism of the body to operate. No oxygen, no function. Extra oxygen, extra function. The breath expands and contracts our abdomen which literally massages the gut, aiding in digestion significantly. It also gives the blood something to transport for the survival and well being of our brains, heart, liver, spleen, gallbladder, muscles, etc etc...
Going from stressed out to placid isn't as elusive as it seems.
Look at children. The little ones. Emotions govern them entirely. A simple word can take them through a rollercoaster from completely crazy (negative) to absolutely ecstatic (positive), and vice versa. Flip sides of the same coin of passion and high energy output.
Adults have the ability and experience for a higher perspective to avoid such emotional rollercoasters with childish topics like whether or not we get taken out for that ice cream treat, but somehow we still lose it with things like sports, politics, and traffic. How do we transcend the stressors? We obtain a higher perspective. But how? We start with breathing.
Being intentional about our breath brings awareness to our bodies. It helps us to recognize the effects our thoughts have on us. Requiring our breath to stabilize requires our pride to sink and our patience to fortify. Breathing is the beginning to self-mastery.
You may think something like “Why in the world would I want to master myself? That's too much trouble!”. And yes, it is a lot of work after all. But say I spell it out this way. If you're unwilling to master yourself, would you rather have anyone else (or everyone else) the ability to master you? Would you rather THEM the ability to control your thoughts, emotions, and actions?
Who do you trust more? The current President? QB of your favorite team? Your employer? Or yourself?
Only YOU know and care about yourself the best (I hope).
If you suddenly cease to live, your employer will find a replacement before your obituary posts. The President is obviously about his own agenda. The quarterback's name you wear on your back (or tattoo on your butt) doesn't wear your name on his. We're so territorial about our lives with defensive statements like “you don't know me!” and “I want it MY way!” but we subject ourselves to the flame of passion directed however our media and influencers program us to think, feel, and act.
If you're aggravated that your body doesn't do what you want or need it to, then follow this instruction and practice mastering your breath. It is the difference between REactivity and PROactivity.
One says “I relinquish the ability to own myself, my thoughts, decisions, actions, circumstances, etc…” and the other says “I recognize ALL that happens to me in my life is a direct result of how I choose to respond to circumstances, and I choose to own my every thought, decision, action, etc…” One lets the sway of the current of life to dictate your trajectory like a glider, while the other cuts through the current like a jet fighter experiencing turbulence.
Inhale represents tension and acknowledgement of the current circumstances.
Exhale represents release and acceptance of the reality you currently have, but also what you wish to have, allowing the old reality to pass into becoming the past, stepping into the new improved de-stressed and more creative you.
With every breath you move toward your goals and allow the things behind to stay behind.
Holding the breath ignites the body's defense mechanisms, keeping the adrenal glands active and the pain receptors extra receptive.
Rhythmic respiration is sedating to the nervous system, allowing serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin to dull pain receptors, giving sensations of well being and happiness. Hint hint.
Learn from one of my heroes named Wim Hof. Yes He's a real life Jedi. He's got a breathing method that ignites your physiology and oxygenates your blood to excess, allowing your body to heal quickly and your blood to run more alkaline. This creates a less hospitable environment for sicknesses of all kinds and has profound health benefits. He's also a huge proponent of cryotherapy, as am I, but that's for another article.
So go ahead. Check him out!
The takeaway message is this: Learn to control your breath through the difficult moments where your reflexes want to take control of you (usually through negative emotions), and consequently learn to own yourself by being proactive about your response to the stressful stimulus in your life. Huah!